Monday, May 15, 2017

The politics of book buying and weeding

Van Halsema, Pamela

The Annoyed Librarian blog Potentially partisan weeding. School Library Journal, February 9, 2017, Retrieved from

This article addresses the topic of collection development and weeding in light of a divided political climate and asks questions about how the librarian can make good decisions to serve needs and wants and also provide a balanced collection.

Our country is more politically divided now than it has been for decades, so when deciding what books to purchase for the collection, and what books to get rid of, what side of the aisle should the librarian land? If the region the library serves is conservative, then should the bulk of the collection reflect that interest, or should the library make an effort to purchase books on different sides of the political spectrum in equal measure?
This is the issue that The Annoyed Librarian confronted in a post on February 9 in Library Journal, Potentially Partisan Weeding. When engaged in the decision making process in collection development, hoping to meet consumer demand for popular books, hoping to create a balanced collection, hoping books will circulate and not just sit on the shelf untouched, what's the right balance of books across the political spectrum?  The author asks if we should bother stocking 'red' district shelves with books by Michael Moore, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, only to just weed them later due to low circulation. Perhaps, as one commenter on the article suggested, our politics are not as black and white as described.  In fact, while conservatives might be a majority in a given area, there are likely still a good percentage of 'blue' readers who might be reading those selections.
Every public library collection, and even school library collection too, needs to listen to the reading preferences of their patrons and to ensure engagement and reader satisfaction, purchase titles that reflect them.  But as the Annoyed Librarian notes, there is a professional standard in the Library Bill of Rights stating that "Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues.” And if the politically unpopular view books are not getting checked out with the same frequency, maybe it is important to hang onto them for a little while, refrain from weeding, to ensure that the collection is more balanced.
Not sure I ever imagined weeding to be a political act, but in this case it certainly could be viewed that way.  This is an even tougher call in a school library--where revisionist history books are potentially dangerous views of our nation's past--leaving out key issues or events that make things look rosier than they actually were in real life.   I'm inclined to pass on those sorts of books altogether unless they are retellings of history from new or different perspectives of a repressed class or minority group. What's a school librarian to do with the popularity of Rush Limbaugh's historical fiction series, that even landed him 2014 Children’s Choice Book Author of the Year Award, when the caustic radio personality causes so much political mayhem on the airwaves?  Is this the person best suited to teach our kids about history?  But maybe its not about providing them with the ONE best suited, but showing that that history and culture are the product of multiple viewpoints of the story, and we are the guardians of making sure each voice gets a chance to tell their version.
We balance all these concerns, of course, with our ethical standards as school librarians. We as professionals have codified these standards, in a Library Bill of Rights, which includes the shared value for Intellectual Freedom that "students and educators should have access to resources and services free of constraints resulting from personal, partisan, or doctrinal disapproval."
I am glad to have a wide range of journals and reviews to help me make selections for library purchases, and will weigh much more than a book's circulation statistics into the decision of whether or not to get rid of a book.

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